As an Eastern Tech freshman four years ago, Ray Jones was a boy in a man's body.
The 13-year-old had a chiseled, 180-pound physique despite never having lifted weights. And though he never had played organized football, Jones showed surprising balance and mobility on the field.
So impressed was first-year coach Nick Arminio that he "wanted to start Ray on varsity immediately."
But Lisa Jones, Ray's mother, was reluctant to let her second of five children become one of those rugged football players.
"I'd hear those helmets cracking and I'd cringe," said Lisa Jones, who still sees her oldest of two sons as her most reliable baby-sitter, the lover of her steak and potatoes, and "spoiled because he doesn't do dishes.
"I wanted to wait until 11th grade, but I settled for 10th," Lisa Jones said. "He's still a baby."
But after 2 1/2 seasons, that baby has done a lot of damage:
His 1,655 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns have helped the Mavericks go from 1-9 four years ago, to 7-3 his sophomore year, and 9-2 last season, when Eastern Tech shared the school's first Baltimore County Class 3A-4A title with Woodlawn and Milford Mill and reached the Class 3A playoffs.
With 860 yards and 13 touchdowns this fall, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Jones is the No. 1 rusher for the No. 2-ranked Mavericks (5-0 overall, 4-0 league).
Rigorous off-season weightlifting has him bench-pressing 355 pounds, which has helped produce an even more sculpted frame 20 pounds heavier than a year ago.
Jones impressed recruiters at a University of Maryland summer camp, running a 4.7-second 40-yard dash and showing the raw power that is typical of his game.
"Ray's bigger, faster than he's ever been, and it's all natural -- no supplements. Zip," said Arminio of a senior who won't turn 17 until December. "As far as potential, Ray's still a baby."
Virtually overnight, however, this late-bloomer is attracting attention from several Division I college programs.
"Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, VMI, Connecticut," said Lisa Jones, naming just a few of the schools interested in her son, who maintains a 3.35 grade-point average, scored 960 on his SAT, and likes engineering.
Jones has committed orally to a full scholarship to the University of Buffalo, but other schools are still trying.
"The mailman comes to our house overwhelmed with college letters," said Lisa Jones.
On JV as a freshman, surprisingly, Jones said he "never started at running back, didn't even get to play defense until the sixth game. I didn't start as a running back until 10th grade."
But Jones has grown to accept the burden as the lone set-back in Arminio's offense, primarily because of a season-ending knee injury to Jason Hartman.
Hartman's is one of three injured players -- the others being Joe Gomez and Danny Onheiser -- whose names adorn the back of Jones' helmet as part of a season-long dedication.
But with the Lawston brothers, All-Metro receiver Anthony (6-3, 215) and Steve (6-1, 200), it's not as if Jones is all alone on offense.
Jones runs behind blocking back Troy Mason (5-11, 235) and linemen Ralph Henry (6-2, 245), Ryan Stewart (6-1, 220), Aaron Weissner (6-6, 275), Josh Fortner (6-2, 270) and Frank Shannon (6-1, 245).
"I'm more of a power runner now as one of the stronger people on the field, but in college, that'll change," said Jones, who has 62 tackles (32 solo), three sacks and a fumble recovery as a linebacker. "I need to improve my speed and cutting ability, learn to move better, agility-wise."
Meanwhile, Lisa Jones has grown to enjoy the sport.
"I'm starting to enjoy those cracking sounds," she said.
Pub Date: 10/09/98